I woke up and checked my phone at about 4:30 a.m. here in California, and saw the news. As someone who lived in Denver during Columbine, I accidentally woke my wife by saying out loud, “Not again.”
Unfortunately from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Tucson (and those are just a few of the domestic ones in recent years), news organizations have a playbook for how to cover these unspeakable events.
My job is not to opine on what happened or why, but to talk about coverage of the event, so here are some observations from one person furiously flipping around this morning.
- At time of writing, no one had brought in any anchors that weren’t normally on at that time.
- One network snapshot at about 7:45 a.m. ET had NBC and ABC talking about the shooting, but when I flipped on the CBS This Morning on CBS, I heard arguments with a congressman about what was or wasn’t a tax. I didn’t stick around to hear what they were talking about, the tone was so off-putting.
- NBC was first with the shooter’s name (about 8:03 a.m. ET), with CBS looking lapped when not long after it still was reporting that we didn’t know much about the shooter.
- ABC News had the chilling quote from the suspect’s mother.
- CBS had the best scheduling move of the day and ABC the worst — with CBS preempting The Doctors on the New York affiliate to stay with coverage at 9 a.m. ET. With NBC sticking with Today as scheduled, ABC surprisingly went to Kelly Ripa’s show. I guess it could be argued that outside of people potentially fighting for their lives, developments had slowed down, but I was absolutely shocked — and disappointed — at that decision by the Disney network.
- I didn’t watch a lot of MSNBC early on, because when I turned on Morning Joe they had an upbeat rock song heading into a break. They did come back with Chuck Todd on solid coverage at 9 a.m.
- Fox News was solid with continuing coverage with its Fox & Friends lineup.
- The calls for CNN to shake up its news operation probably won’t be quieted after the coverage early on this morning. At one point I heard someone identified as a detective talking about how the shooting will affect ticket sales for the Dark Knight movie elsewhere. Even when CNN had something great — like live coverage from a chopper over the alleged shooter’s apartment — it did not identify on screen that said footage was live, which is 101 stuff. And while Piers Morgan Tonight producer Jonathan Wald, one of the best Twitter follows in the media, was smartly tweeting about Morgan talking gun control on his show Friday night, his own network was simultaneously and consistently promoting a Morgan interview with actress Sigourney Weaver on a lower-screen crawl during coverage of the shooting aftermath.
- The ability to anchor coverage like this one day and pretend to look interested in a Kardashian on another is why Matt Lauer is worth every penny to NBC and why he has the power to put whoever he wants in the chairs next to him. His poise stood out Friday morning.
- All three morning shows went live with their varsity talent for the West Coast at 7 a.m. PT.
As someone who runs a news operation, I understand the challenges of covering breaking news and how hard it is to be perfect consistently, so take this as what it is: one person’s snapshot of wearing out a remote control during a morning I wish had never happened.